Sep 112011

It has been 10 years since I wrote that piece in a moment of anguish and shock. Ten years passed by, bringing in more and more dystopian visions of the future – curtailment of liberties, heavy-handed government, needless wars, suffering of the innocence, self-censoring of the press, and untold missed opportunities for golden future.

In the last ten years too, lot of things have changed. I moved farther and farther away from my childhood as it receded slowly from memory. First to go is the poetry. None of the old memories – the rains, the stars, the morning walks to the animal yard, the idle cards players in the library – seep into the semi-conscious morning. Instead of feeling the lyrics of the songs, now I merely listen to them.

Simply put: life goes on. We get used to things that we never understood. We take off shoes silently, paying the homage to TSA Gods and proceed to the altar of the winged machines. Does it remind me of my temple going days? Did I take of my shoes in quiet obedience then? I don’t recall that 10 year old person — – did he understand the nature of the God? Did he marvel at mornings and evenings? Did he stare at the stars to brand that image into the brain forever? What did he think of the world?

As memories fade away, I lose a bit of myself. I forget the excitement of the first day of school, earnestness of skipping the water puddles on the roads, first flush of youth, the sweet anticipation of exam results, and fateful farewell from the familiar.

Then, in forgetting those old memories, we make new ones. I suppose these memories are too static, stealing a moment of contentment from everyday life, or a happiness shared. It is not the same as exploring the world with wondering eyes — none of the childhood stuff.

Perhaps these new memories are not so far back as yet to romanticize. Perhaps I need to age before I look back wistfully at the mundane routine of meeting with friends in Farmington library, or taking the kids to ice-skating on a snowy morning in Michigan.

Till then, I will try to hang onto my old memories a bit longer, thank you.

 Posted by at 5:10 pm
Feb 112006

Just when I was coming to US, I visited an elderly gentleman with relatives in the US. I asked him for any last minute advice. He told me this: “Get a haircut before going there. You will save 7 dollars”.

Koramangala Forum Mall

Koramangala Forum Mall

Now that I am in Bangalore doing shopping here, I have a different kind of advice. If you want to save money, don’t look to Bangalore Malls.

Note that during all these years several things have changed. Walls came crumbling down; new countries got created; new thoughts and words are sweeping the world.

Not that it matters, but I too changed. I am on the other side of tracks now. I used to worry about how my people could get out of hopeless abyss of daily grind. Now, daily grind is a show on MTV. Not that I became callous. My concerns are more abstract, (or shall I say, more universal?) now. I am for social justice and equality of course, though my main complaint these days is “it is so difficult to get good help”.

I needed buy some essentials and I wanted to buy some gifts. I went to the local Mall (Forum) in Koramangala to shop there. On the outset, it is like most small malls in the US. Rows of small shops in four floors were selling different goods. Some stores were selling “ethnic” goods as well.

Here is the strange fact: What we used to call “foreign” goods have become regular goods. What we used to consider as regular clothes (actually, a variant), have become ethnic.

In my quest, here is what I found: shops that sell specialty soaps for $12 each. I splurge on occasion buying French-milled soaps at $8 each. These were too expensive for me.

I forgot my watch and went into a watch store. Looks like the average Indian is more cost conscious than an average Indian-American [Damn the hyphenated existence! More on this on another post]. These watches cost $1000 and upwards. I may be part of affluent minority, but I am still used to looking for deals. I passed on that shop too.

I walked into another store to look at the shoes. Here Nikes go for $100 minimum. I always manage to buy my shoes in “sale” events. I am not about to spend that much money on shoes.

One thing I could easily convince myself is food. There were rows of shops selling Dosa to Crepes (no kidding!), Mexican wrap to Tandoori Paratha, and Sandwiches to Bhel puri.

One thing I could not resist is walking into Landmark, a bookstore. I could find most of the best sellers here. If you find yourself in Indian bookstores, look for the Penguin India, or Rupa books. They are good and cheap.

Mall was packed to the hilt. It seems like a popular hang our for families. They come there, look at some shops, and marvel at others buying the expensive cargo and have dinner and go home. Occasionally they give into impulse and buy these $12 soaps. The hyper-consumerism calls for different kind of heroes: Bill Gates is the most admired person in Bangalore, according to some poll.

What did I do in the end? I went to back alleys of commercial street. There, in a shop frequented by purdah-clad women, I found the trinkets that I needed to buy for my daughters. I got all I wanted for mere 1400 Rupees, which I was going to spend on a couple of small soaps.

Ramarao Kanneganti
Feb 11, 2006

 Posted by at 12:07 pm
Jan 312006

Roxy #lO# Norma Shearer
Brodway #lO kaancana maala#

Let me assure you those were good choices. If I switch on my TV, I am not as lucky. I get to choose between horror and horreur!

Ok, I am in Banagalore now. I come back to guest house at odd hours and catch some TV before going to bed. The trouble is that I have not yet figured out how to know what channels we get. Looks like there is no preview channel.

Anyway, I quickly settle on the channels I am interested. All Telugu ones — ETV, Teja, MAA TV, and Gemini, and handful of English ones — HBO, Star movies, Star something. Hindi is not for me — if I feel nostalgic, I turn to Telugu and if I miss home, I turn to English! Ah, blasphemy! Ahh, the life of an expat! Hate mails welcome.

I flip through all channels looking for something worth watching. There seem to be a mega function for mega star Chiranjeevi. I remember him being youthful. Now, off screen, he looks bloated and unattractive. (I am not saying that he looks different onscreen. I have not seen him onscreen for a long time — so I cannot say how he looks there. He did good at one point. How people change!) Movie people, one after another, come and sing praises of him. It appears he won Padma Bhushan award this year. People speculate why he won openly on the TV. Nothing snarky, let me assure you. It is all perfectly adulatory. Chiru naturally dedicates his award to his fans.

On another channel, there is an oscar-wanna-be function. Several old time heroines come and hand over awards. I saw people I did not even think for so many years — Kanchana, Latha, and a few others. There were several inside jokes, and paying "we-are-not-worthy" at each others’ lotus feet.

On English channels the preoccupation is with Martial art movies. At any given time, there seem to be one playing. The other channel plays the horror kind: Bride of chucky and the like. There are occasional gems (I did not expect to find "The good girl" on TV here), but perhaps I keep missing them.

When I drive, I listen to some radio station. Cute. Imagine a typical US station. Make the voices more Indian. Increase the RPM by a factor of 1.417. Throw in a sprinkle of Hindi words through out — do not even put the "’s around them. Let them flow as naturally as Anglo-Saxon words. You get the idea.

I have seen the multilingual (or is it monolingual) city and Bangalore is it. It is profitable to have a single language for commerce. The TV is working to that reality. We see these faces with no hint of their nationality. They seem to come in every ad. They all speak Hinglish, a variant that seems to be popular these days.

My NRI status naturally excuses me from knowing Hindi. Otherwise, things Indian are discussed in words Hindi. In all educated circles in Bangalore, even if people speak in English, they use Hindi culture (concepts, writers, Indian expressions, movies and the like) in their conversations.

If TV shows the way, in a few years, India will speaking Hinglish (at least the educated classes).

Ramarao Kanneganti
Jan 31, 2006

 Posted by at 12:05 pm
Jan 292006

Detroit Airport

“We will have to wait for one more hour” he said while I was washing my hands in the bathroom. “It happens all the time with Deccan airlines” I said. “This is my first time flying” he confided. We were talking in Telugu.

In the US, we don’t talk to strangers in the bathroom. And, strangers don’t speak in Telugu. But, I was in Hyderabad, on the way to Bangalore. My co-(ahem)victim is also waiting for the same plane it seems. He is around 60, with glasses and looks like a ex-military man with short, trim torso. Not oozing with riches — Deccan airlines surely made flying affordable for even the middle class.

Naturally, I savor even such small inconsequential conversations. Years of spending abroad makes me feel like a perennial member of minority. It is nice to be taken at face value, a member of majority, and yet somehow the influential minority.

When I was young, I used to look forward to traveling. My mother always believed that we should wear our best when we travel. The need to appear well-bred and perhaps even well-off is no longer there. I ignore the dress code so completely that my attitude of studied indifference gives away that I am part of that well-off minority. At least, I was told so in the next hour.

I waited in the lounge with other passengers. We were all united in cursing the airline. Normally I would get lost in a book, but in India, it is always a pleasure to talk to people. I looked at my neighbors to see who looks interesting.

The seat opposite to me is occupied by a youngish girl, perhaps in early 20s. It is obvious that she is no stranger to flying. She made herself comfortable, occupying both the seats. I knew that the rest of the world is created just as an accessory for her. She was semi-reclined on the chairs reading a book. I glanced at the title — “Da Vinci Code”. What is it with airports and Da Vinci code? Do they get special fares with that book?

Fortunately, I read the book earlier, enough to chat about it. (There are people that say that I don’t have to read a book to talk about it too). I waited till she grew bored with the book and started glancing around.

I smiled at her. “How do you like that book?” I asked. She frowned a bit, not expecting to be small-talked to by a stranger of the opposite sex. I smiled widely suggesting that I am cool enough to be ignorant of local social mores. May be that was it. Or, the fact that I was a man of a certain age made the difference.

She too smiled. We were now a part of a small select club that makes its own rules. She said she could tell I live abroad. She asked “States?” with clear accent that I was reminded later of when I listened to radio ads in Bangalore. I nodded.

Of course, she had cousins “practically all over in the states”. She went there for a summer too. She excused herself for flying in Deccan Airlines. “I had to fly back to Bangalore in the last minute”, she said.

With a practiced tone, I sketched my profile, “living 100 ft above the ground, with two large windows overlooking the creek, and the new 7 Series BMW on the way”. But then, that was the price of admission into the club. Or, perhaps my genuine interest in her as a human being.

In the next one hour, I heard her speak in lovely accent all about the local scene. She just finished her medicine and going back to Bangalore, where she lives. She would like to do FRCS, and loves helping people. It is not the money or the prestige that attracted her to medicine. I surely understood — she is rich enough not to bother.

Of course, I surely understood and sympathized with her. I found myself agreeing with her on everything. Why, India is improving, the pub scene is great in Bangalore, we get everything that her cousins get in New York within a few days, traffic is a problem, wish cars were costlier so that there would be fewer.

I too mentally became part of that page-3’ish crowd. I would smile indulgently to encourage her to tell me the other side of life. Not explicitly, I seem to have suggested that I was part of a similar scene in my days. At least vicariously, through “hep-cat” friends in IIT.

We were called to board eventually.

At the baggage pick up area in BLR airport, I overheard a loud voice, “Geez! Would you stop barging in like that?” I saw that man with short, trim torso at receiving end of the confident rebuke from the voice of new generation. He seemed to have lunged for his luggage at the baggage belt.

Non-standard disclaimer:
Well, it could have happened to me. I may have embellished the incident. Perhaps, the characters in there are composite sketches. The essential truthiness is there. The message is right, even if the facts are largely made up. Aw shucks! Give it a rest, will ya! I am telling you, I did go to prison! It did toughen me, I tell you. What if I am planning on writing my memoir? Why do you wish it wouldn’t reach the best seller list?

Ok, Ok, you really want the truth. Well, to begin with, it did not happen in Hyderabad Airport. It happened in Frankfurt. It did not happen to me. It happened to somebody else. I don’t even know who.

There. Now, quit complaining to Oprah.

Ramarao Kanneganti,
Bangalore, Jan 29, 2006.

 Posted by at 12:02 pm
Nov 082005

Magic of the familiar


My brother told me an anecdote.
As anecdotes go, it was not much.
Apparently, a few of his friends
went to a wedding of a college friend.
It was a small village, with no electricity
or even good transportation.
For the wedding, they booked a gramophone,
with many records, all LPs no doubt.
But, on that day, because of a snafu,
they only got one record.
From the morning to evening,
they only heard that record.
“unter der treppen, auf den longen
floren” *, they heard it everywhere.
They heard it from the walls,
they heard it over the chatter.
Soon, the walls start singing the same
song; it clung to their skin like smoke.
They hated the very sound of the song
They could not bear to think of the words
By the evening, they can only look forward
to listening to the song again, and again.
#engayO kETTa kural# like, they can only
fall into the magic of the familiar.
To this day they could not recall the song
without nostalgia, with out the misty eyes.
Those were the good days, good times,
good songs, good music and good life
They said it often and they still say it.

Ramarao Kanneganti
Nov 8, 2005
[Time took: 110 secs :-)]
*: From a German poem called “Zicate” or cicada. Does any body know the full poem? I lost track of it.

 Posted by at 12:02 pm
Sep 122005

Growing Old and even Older

Growing old is a funny thing. When you are young, all that you could think of is how soon you can grow up. Once you do, all you think of is, how much you want to stop aging, and even regressing.

I always thought that life peaks when you are 25. Not only that it is such a nice number, but all the books I read lead me to believe that it was the age. Everything seems to happen at the same time.

If you are a mathematician, you are supposed to do your best work in your 20’s. You pretty have to figure out where you are ending up — a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, a bungee jumping instructor — by that age. You are worried about your future; you are worried about making the right choices. Amidst all that, you find it is easy to fall in love — as easy as leaves falling in fall season. Of course, you fall and fall again.

Once you trade your youth for more stability, a mortgage, couple of kids, cars (or perhaps even that van) in the garage, you still cling to youth. You think you can go back and see it better next time. May be this time, you live better. Make all the right choices. Smile at the right people. Take courage to say hello across the aisles. Read that book before the exams, not after it. The personalized redemption is vaguely back of your mind …

Until one day, you go to a party. You are urbane. You are witty. You are suave. You look dashing. You are life-of-the-party in the mixed company. Of course, inevitably, a pretty young thing calls you “uncle”.

You start noticing these things immediately. You are no longer dangerous. Your “harmless” flirtations are really harmless. You are really a lovable uncle, for God’s sake.

You still do not want to concede. You hang out with young people. You think you are connecting with them, talking about Missamma. But, then they are talking about the one with Bhoomika. You still think SPB is a recent upstart. For them, he is a has-been.

Eventually, people start respecting you. They say that they have to learn things from you. That pretty much means your time is up. You hang up those boots and get back home. Sit on a porch and watch the sunrises and sunsets. Spin your yarns to little children, that start with “in my days”.

The zig is up, mister! You are not merely growing old — you are old!

* * *

I grow old, I grow old,
I wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

* * *

The biggest fear of losing youth is growing old. What happens to us as we grow old? Will it be like as vEdula said “dinammulu paraspara pratidhwanammulu kaaga” (దినమ్ములు పరస్పర ప్రతిధ్వనమ్ములు కాగ)? Do we spend time thinking of the past glories? Does each fading memory gets replaced with a fantasy memory? Perhaps each remembered glance becomes a full-fledged love story, unredeemed, unrequited, and eternally re-lived.

When I get there, I will tell you.

Ramarao Kanneganti

PS: The only place perhaps I will feel younger is in the company of older people. That is why I am hanging out on RB!

This article is originally sent here. One response it got is by Lyla:

Ramarao! Avuncular!
Rama Rama! Heaven forbid!
Ramarao can be singular,
peculiar: he can be pedantic
semantic and romantic
eccentric, ecelectic and electric
poetic and at times lunatic
But, Ramarao Avuncular
Is not in the vernacular!

With regards, to Ramarao Kanneganti,


 Posted by at 7:26 pm
Sep 122005

Each word has a small, a taste, and a story. How do we understand it? Perhaps it will take lifetime.


In #kanThaabharaNam# (కంఠాభరణము) one of the characters says “#Sabda braham#(శబ్ద బ్రహ్మము) is prior to #artha brahmaM# (అర్థ బ్రహ్మము)”. Or, as the sloka says #tathaaksharaat saMbhavati iti viSwam#. (తథాక్షరాత్ సంభవతీహ విశ్వం) Take your pick :-).

Then there is other set of peeps who say that knowing meaning is important to understanding the poetry.

What is surprising to me is that this “knowing the meaning” business. Simply giving the dictionary meaning is not sufficient. To understand the meaning, you live with the word for a few years. You take it out for walks, you go out to dinners, you fall asleep with it… Oops, Am I in the wrong mailing list?

Even after all that, from a word you want more than meaning. Unlike prose, where mere meaning (I am not dismissing that meaning — that would come later) is important, in poetry, you seek for the color, smell, and taste for each word.

Being a man of few thoughts (My motto: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle), I am reusing one of the thoughts I had a while ago:

[Beginning of a reused mail]

Sadly, till date, I cannot appreciate English poetry, especially romantic poetry. #Shelly kavanapu halleekasamu# draws a blank. I can resonate with

#sanja pedavula erupu, kaDali anchula virigi
sanja parikiNi cheragu eDada lOtula merasi#
(సంజ పెదవుల ఎరుపు, కడలి అంచుల విరిగి
సంజ పరికిణి చెరగు ఎడద లోతుల మెరసి )

But songs of daffodils leave me cold.

Translations? They fail in poetry. Just take the preceding two lines. #sanja# (సంజ)is not “evening” there. That is not equivalent to “sandhya”(సంధ్య). It is a village cousin of #sandhya#. She works in the farms. She wears a half saree. She does not wear a lipstick; her lips are naturally red, a shade of red that you can only find in the sky at the twilight. Her lips are not sheen; the thin vertical lines on the lips with different shades of red, are entirely different from what you find on #sandhya#.

Now #sandhya#(సంధ్య) is different. She may be a college girl, even she came to the village on a vacation. Her lips are uniform red, with a slight sheen. She may wear a half saree, but ever so reluctantly — perhaps only on special occasions. She is delicate; and may have read a little bit of poetry. When she lifts her eyes, the shyness hangs on to her eyelids a little.

See, the word #sandhya#సంధ్య) and #sanja#(సంజ) are entirely different, contrary to what dictionaries say. Both personifications of evening, both as different as a painting of Monet to vermeer! Only living in a culture long enough can teach those images.

Try finding an English equivalent that paints that image for #sanja#(సంజ)!

As I have been living here in this country, and reading World literature, I have been trying to map the alien feelings into Telugu, the only point of reference to several of my emotions. If you remember an RB heading titled “mokkajonna tOTa lO, out of bearded barley”, that was what I was trying to do. It has taken me 20 years of cultural immersion even to have a feel for “Out of bearded barley”. It has taken me my childhood and adolescence, to understand #mokkajonna tOTa#(మొక్కజొన్న తోటలో).

Out of curiosity, do you guys listen to English songs? Do you listen to lyrics? What do you think of “Out of bearded barley” phrase? What does it evoke? Some of you have been in this country longer than I have been — what do they feel?

[End of reused mail]

Ramarao Kanneganti
Sep 12, 2005

[Original message here]

 Posted by at 11:59 am
Jul 262005


Leela palace in Bangalore

[Here are the things that are stuck in the chute. Unfinished thoughts and words ahead. Proceed at your own risk.]

I am experiencing the death of Telugu first hand. When I read how a building is built with #SaravEgam# in #eenaaDu#, I wonder if the figurative speech died. When I read how editorial parenthesis creep into a factual writing, I wonder if the logic of writing died. Oh, for the making languages compulsory — just invest that money creating at least a few good practitioners of Telugu prose. What passes for good writing in AP makes your blood boil or curdle. Take your pick.

Here is another untold story. Story of a friend of mine, who is affluent, middle class, and intelligent. Perhaps we both meet for lunch in a nice place like Leela palace. He, being used to the upper class service, starts bantering with the hostess. Who is she? She is just one of the many that know how to wear the makeup in hurry, yet appear to have spent long hours. One of the many that know how to make a Sari work. One of the many that work for a living, yet seem to enjoy that. They like the power, the proximity to the power, and even the scent of power. Of course, who understands them? Not their parents. Not others who cannot understand how decent girls can talk to half drunk, overweight business males that strut their egos? But, then what makes them tick? How do they reconcile the rarified with the regular? If I had time, that would be a story untold. So, chalk it up for one of the unfinished.

There is a movie my Melvin Kaminsky (known as Mel Brooks) titled History of the world Part I. The second part never appeared. In Telugu, we have a 116 story anthology out of which only 58 got published. Anyway, when I start with TANA note I, it is an assumption there is to be a second part. Suryakumari’s elaborate and personal account of the event robbed me of any incentive to write the second part. May be during next week, when I expect to have some free time.

It seems facts get in the way for our officers. They took out a large ad defending investment in a shady VW subsidiary. This half a page article, written in Telugu, is full of rhetorical, factual, stylistic, and grammar errors. For example, they assert VW to be the largest auto manufacturer in the world (it is not). They make a poor case how their due diligence was done. If our senior officers can’t afford to write well (or get the resources to write well), is it any wonder Telugu is dying? Can imposition work? I merely suggest a coordinated effort to take a red pen to daily papers, and official communiqués to shame the culprits :-).

Ohm shantih, shantih, … aw shucks!
That’s all f-ff-ff-ff-folks!
Ramarao Kanneganti

 Posted by at 9:21 pm
Jul 172005


I opened by email with usual resignation. Spam, spam, spam. Some unrecognized mail, by the looks of it. I don’t know anybody called Padma. At least the ones that would send me email. Or, I don’t believe that spammers figured out how to target market to Indian men.

Curiosity won over. I opened the email without any qualms. It is in Telugu: (converted to rts, it reads:)

# EnTi raa. elaa unnaavu?

ravi # mail # vacchindi kada.# I am so happy # raa. endukO teleedu. aayananTE naaku entO gauravaM. eppuDoo aayanatO maaTlaaDalEdu gaanee. monna mEmandaramoo kalisi Dinnarki veLLaamu. caana saradaaga unTaaru. andaritOnoo #free# gaa unTaaru.

mallee raastaanulE. Edo #deadline# unnadi. #

Who could it be? I know it is a mis-sent email, I am not that ramarao. Looking at the company name and sent time, it must be from Bangalore. A Telugu girl from Bangalore. The punctuation (which I corrected) seems like a person who is not so fluent in English. Perhaps some recent (say a couple of years) employee in an IT organization. She might be one of the many that flock to Bangalore after a degree in IT, perhaps from coastal district.

I suppose this Ramarao is some friend of hers. May be a classmate in her degree class. She is quite comfortable enough to call him “raa”. That is interesting. Single girls from Guntur being able to confide in single men about crushes! May be being away from home can make her seek out companionship. Perhaps he is non-threatening in someway. Perhaps he may be already “seeing” one of her other classmates. Or, he may be a brother by a distant relation. In any case, not a real brother — but like a brother — offering enough support and mystique. As a friend of mine said, a girl likes to confide to a safe man — the ones without any threat of romance.

Going to dinners in mixed company … Perhaps it is the liberation that brought on by regular salary. All through her life, she listened to her elders. Suddenly she found her self earning more money than her father did. What appeared wrong or extravagant now looks to be her right. What if she goes out with friends? It is not as if she is running around with boys! After all, there are other girls too that came to dinner. Besides, it is quite common to go out in such projects where we all work with aggressive deadlines, she would say.

I suppose, without the ties that bind constantly pulling at her, it is possible to push the envelope a bit. She can confidently talk about COM, but not men or boys. She can be a little defensive. Why, I talked to boys in college, she would say. She may even offer that “Ramarao” as a proof that she feels comfortable enough with boys. She is not comfortable with a crush — especially when it can be dangerous.

This character Ravi is not really the main part of this story. He may be an elder boy or even a man. He is pretty comfortable with his life style. An affluent middle class existence in Bangalore, and yet unattached. Enough to give the right amount of confidence to be free in mixed company. For her, he may be somebody more than her old classmates. A bridge to a new life and even life style. Something that represents a giddying array of possibilities in the city. Possibilities that her newly found freedom can glimpse into. If it is not Ravi, it would be some Sharma. Somebody who can speak English well, and familiar with pop culture.

Then again, what does she know? She has to traverse this labyrinth of emotions by herself. Not being very comfortable in English is a challenge. Suddenly, you feel like an infant, trapped with feelings that can only be expresses inarticulately. A clever repartee, or even innocent banter is not so easy. With so few words, each word assumes a larger meaning. Each sentence spoken with Ravi’s of the world is agonized over in the night. Perhaps I should have said this. That other girl is not particularly clever, but then how do others listen to her? May be I could have said something better.

Work is another matter. Suddenly being valued for her skills makes her empowered. She knows her father cannot comprehend what she is doing. With a name like Padma, may be her father is a teacher or a bank employee. May be he saved some for dowry. But then, Padma is in a different world. She cannot accept that for mere money she becomes a good prospect for some boy. When she goes back home, the contrast is surreal. They don’t understand that she is in-charge of a module in an important project.

It is an untold story. May be it is not the life of a struggling farmer. May be her trials and tribulations are not what would move anybody. If I write a story about her, if I let you know a little bit about her, may be a defining anecdote, please do not presume to know her fully. I cannot trivialize a person with a few lines. I cannot offer a line picture as a portrait. You will have to muse for yourself why you bothered with this girl in the first place. May be you can see through her eyes a bit — a changing world which you are no longer a part of. If her story offers you such a glimpse, I am happy.

What do you say?

Ramarao Kanneganti (for all my other writings)
[Original Here]

 Posted by at 9:17 pm
Jun 202005

A perspective from TANA short story competition

[Preamble: Some impressions of the Telugu short stories and novels. Caveat: I am on the the judges for TANA competetions] First a caveat. Since I am one of the judges for the competetions, please regard the following as my individual opinions. Also, I am not going to be specific with any of the novels received. Please do not tie my comments to those novels or even the stories.

You raised the following points. [Since I find typing in Telugu tiresome, I will resort to English].

  1. Diversity of topics: Is it true that there is no diversity of topics?I remember when I was doing research. I started out to satisfy my curiousity. As I was tinkering, I discovered how others do research. I read about that research. I realised the importance of being able to communicate my research. I started looking at the existing research for my research topics.

    In short, I let the existing literature define my interests.

    If we look at the literature these days, it is true that most literature is heavily influenced by the greats writing about the common man — the factory worker, the farmer, the victim of the government beaurocracy and the like. Every writer starts by imitating the existing writings. When all the existing writings (at least the easy to imitate ones) are of this type then it is natural that most writings start out that way. [My own writings started after I read khadga srushTi at the age 13].

    Once you start writing such stories, looks like you have a ready group of writers, who give positive response. “Yes, the story has social conscience”, they would say. “Yes, the writer responds to the ills of the society”, they would say. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Except the diversity of the writings would decrease.

    Cases in point: Impact of globalization on local trades [Change the trade, and locale — you got yourself a new story]. Impact of lack of rains in Rayala seema [Change the economic level of the farmer and name (thereby caste), you got yourself a new story.]

    Of course, even the “best” of the writers succumb to this lack of imagination — Khadeer Babu being a case in point (something about sODaa buDDeelu).In this context, I must say that I liked the story that vaaDrEvu wrote about the relationship between the individual and the state and the power equation. [Stylistically overwrought, but topic is profound].

    Do you remember rukkulu? Every topic is of interest to literature the poet says. In fact, another great writer wrote a story on every of those topics. The fundamentalism aspect of it is to take them and only them as the topics. Unless it is related to large number of people, unless it is sensitive to the needs of the large number of people, the critics dictate the story as useless.Let us look at the vibrant English writings by Indian writers. Salman Rushdie takes a jew from India and marries him off to a parsee and creates a minority of one. The whole story is inverted — it talks about one individual — but within that individual’s relationships with others and the society, the whole world unfolds.

    So, we reject the stories of software scientists who are living lives of their own in a stratosperic atmosphere. We reject the lives of urbanized people who go about their life without the angst of a budding poet. We reject the girls who work in the call centers, who make enough money to upend the social mores. We reject the stories of sympathetic neighbor who wheels and deals in real estate. We reject the stories that falls at the tails of the curve.

    We paint the stories black and white. Poor = good. Rich = Bad. They end up becoming individual centric instead of closely examining the circumstances.

  2. Diversity of style: In the early part of the century, there is a powerful writer F. Scott Fidzgerald, who influenced a whole generation of writers with his style. It was sensous, sumpteous, and oh so clever. It took the work of Hemingway to break down the ornate to reveal the core in short, soul of the stories. So, we have diverse influences in writing the stories, each different enough to let us evolve our own.Somehow are we are stuck in the days of raa vi Saa, where the descriptions run long. Or, the writers like ko ku, with editorial commentaries. I remember a story by Malladi rama krishna sastry, that ran entirely in dialogue. What happened to such diversity in styles?

    Looks like most Telugu stories are stuck in the era of descriptions and editorial commentary. They describe the surroundings and people in great detail (almost always without really contributing to the story) — alas, raa vi Saa, they are not. They end up sounding trite, and looking worn.

    Or, they describe the moral lessons in stark terms. Or, they set up faux moral dilemas. Or, they ask simplistic questions to make us think. The technique is right, but the execution falls short. Or, has the technique imprisoned them? I think so.

    The editorial comments that meant to direct the readers look like a coercion. Why tell me, the reader, what to think? Show the world honestly, and I will make my decision. If you want me to suspend the belief, I would gladly, in return for some stimulating thoughts.

My brother Chandra Kanneganti’s recent story is almost a study in minimalism. It appeared in Telugu naadi in June, I think. I suppose if I were to take away some dialogues by the book buyer, it would reach the sparseness of a Hemingway.Also, Titanic, despite the silly name, has several stylistic devices that make us read the story again and again.

What can I say? I like to read a story or a novel that respects me, the reader; that makes me read it; that makes me think about it as I go about my day; that makes me recognize the patterns that I learnt in my life in that literary work; or, that makes me see a pattern that I never saw before to make it a part of my thinking.–
Ramarao Kanneganti

 Posted by at 9:16 pm